A remarkable picture of a single glowing atom just won a photography prize — here are the most eye-catching images from the competition

The third-place winner in the

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The third-place winner in the “Innovation” category depicts exceptionally strong aluminum structures created with a technique called selective laser melting.
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Sam Catchpole Smith/University of Nottingham/EPSRC

At the most basic level, everything is made of tiny atoms.

As a way to recognize that fundamental fact, it seems appropriate that a stunning image depicting one single positively-charged strontium atom just won a prestigious photography award.

The image, which shows the atom trapped by electric fields, was the overall winner of this year’s science photography competition put on by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the UK.

The photo, taken by David Nadlinger from the University of Oxford, actually shows the light particles re-emitted by the trapped atom, as you can see in the photo below. (That light is hundreds of times larger than the atom itself and can be captured in a visible shot using a digital camera, though you can’t see anything the size of an atom without a powerful microscope.)

It’s not the only stunning shot from the competition, which also includes photos of the fascinating fluid patterns on a bubble of soap, the structures that cover a butterfly’s wing, and a robot learning to take a selfie.

Here’s a selection of the winning images.


The single atom in the winning photo is being held by equipment used to explore quantum physics.

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Overall Winner and 1st in Equipment and Facilities: “Single Atom in Ion”
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David Nadlinger/University of Oxford/EPSRC

This engineered, biologically accurate model of tissue could help replace animal models that are used to study neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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3rd in Eureka and Discovery: “An in vitro 3D tissue engineered model”
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Dr. Andrew Capel/Loughborough University/EPSRC

Biodegradable microparticles like this one could help drugs penetrate further into cancerous tumors.

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2nd in Eureka and Discovery: “Biodegradable microbowls could help fight stubborn cancers”
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Tayo Sanders II/University of Oxford/EPSRC

These exceptionally strong aluminum structures were created with a technique called selective laser melting.

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3rd in Innovation category: “Building blocks for a lighter future”
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Sam Catchpole Smith/University of Nottingham/EPSRC

Researchers are screening how cells attach to surfaces here to find a way to better grow stem cells.

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2nd in Innovation: “High throughput screening in search for serendipity”
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Dr. Mahetab Amer/University of Nottingham/EPSRC

Fluid instability on top of a bubble of soap shows the road toward the bubble’s eventual rupture.

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1st in Eureka and Discovery: “In a kitchen far far away”
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Li Shen/Imperial College London/EPSRC

Soil could replace concrete, thanks to techniques that turn dirt into forms of clay that can resist water and maintain structure.

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3rd in Weird and Wonderful: “Just mud, or the future sustainable concrete “
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Alastair March/University of Bath/EPSRC

The larger fruits held by this farmer were irrigated by a smart, automated system designed to meet the okra’s specific needs.

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2nd in People and Skills: “Lady Finger Crop”
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Lucy Bryden/Heriot Watt University/EPSRC

This microbubble can carry a drug to a carefully selected target site.

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1st in Innovation: “Microbubble for drug delivery”
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Estelle Beguin/University of Oxford/EPSRC

This machine creates crystal wafers used in electronics for the fabrication of circuits, which were traditionally made of silicon.

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3rd in Equipment and Facilities: “Molecular Beam Epitaxy Machine”
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Claudia Gonzalez Burguete/University College London/EPSRC

The surface of a butterfly wing helps trap light from the sun, giving it the brilliant colors the creature is known for.

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1st in Weird and Wonderful: “Natures Nanosized Net for Capturing Colour”
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Bernice Akpinar/Imperial College London/EPSRC

Each placenta is different yet able to help support a growing life — these photos came from research into the tree structures inside each one.

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2nd in Weird and Wonderful: Placental Pop Art
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Dr. Rosalind Aughwane/University College London/EPSRC

This newly designed robot has special tactile skills that let it hold up a selfie stick to snap a self-portrait.

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3rd in People and Skills: Robo Selfie (1 of 2)
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Luke Cramphorn/University of Bristol/EPSRC

Look at it go!

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3rd in People and Skills: Robo Selfie (2 of 2)
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Luke Cramphorn/University of Bristol/EPSRC

Scientists are testing this underwater drone, which is designed to identify fuel debris near Fukushima.

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2nd in Equipment and Facilities: “Searching for Simulated Fukushima Fuel Debris Using and AVEXIS TM ROV”
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Dr. Simon Watson/University of Manchester/EPSRC

This volunteer is having his brain activity recorded using an EEG headset as he walks to see how it changes in different areas of the city.

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1st in People and Skills: “Spiderman on George IV Bridge”
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Richard Coyne/University of Edinburgh/EPSRC